VANDALIA, Ohio (WDTN) — A team from Ohio Task Force 1 is on their way to Maui to help in search and recovery efforts following a devastating wildfire. The fire destroyed the community of Lahaina, and the death toll now over 100.
Three handlers and their canines will be on the ground searching through the debris. This is the first time the OTF1 has been activated since Hurricane Ian destroyed parts of Florida in 2022.
This mission will be different than the last. Heather Ferguson is a canine specialist and has been with the task force for five years now. She said the team is flying to Hawaii instead of taking their caravan of equipment. They are also going to be dealing with a lot of ash from the fires and working in a humid climate. She said despite these new challenges, they are ready for every scenario.
“All of these dogs are trained to do recovery work, which is what we call victims of a fire or a flood. And all of these dogs have been doing it for a long time. We’ve all been deployed multiple times to do this sort of work,” Ferguson explained.
This is not Ferguson’s first time in Lahaina. She has been there on vacation with her family. This time, she will be returning to the city with a different purpose.
“All of us believe in the mission of FEMA, but we also believe in the mission of our ability to return loved ones to their family members for closure. It’s really important for us. And so our ability to bring that closure to families is what helps us to know that we’re doing good work and we’re supporting the communities in which we’re going to to work,” Ferguson said.
The team does not know how long they will be needed, but they are prepared to stay for two weeks.